Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


Chapter 1, Revisited

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever to be able to contrast my original thoughts on theproduction of this series to the final product.  I’ve decided to revisit each chapter post and – to the best of my memory – analyze how Peter Jackson and company actually did translate “The Hobbit” from page to script to screen.


And there it was, a black screen fading in to “New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer present…A Wingnut Films Production…”

No subtitle was included, however, as was the case with the Lord of the Rings films.  The “An Unexpected Journey” title showed up shortly after the “prologue” portion finished, which is how “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” subtitles made their appearances in the previous films.

It was like the last nine years never happened.  Middle-Earth was back, as if we’d never left it.

Now I’ll get right to the heart of the matter.  When first looking at how the story would flesh out over two films I was pretty adamant that there would need to be some judicious editing from the primary text.  I had no doubt that Jackson would film as many scenes as possible but, based on his process for editing the Lord of the Rings films, I expected that anything that didn’t directly move the central story forward would see the cutting room floor.  Based on a total runtime of five to five and half hours for two films, I didn’t see how it would be possible to keep everything.

Then last summer, the decision was made to expand the series to three films.  And that, of course, made all the difference in the world.  Some critics have complained that the “super-sizing” of the story is too apparent and unnecessary.  I say, phooey.

The expected the central story would be “the character arc of Bilbo Baggins – that is, his development from a timid, placid hobbit to a brave, loyal and cunning hero.”  Having seen the first film, it appears that this is definitely the case.  You can see it from Bilbo’s initial reluctance to join the company on its quest.  Gandalf prods him with a reference to Bilbo’s ancestor on the Took side who fought valiantly against orcs and wargs in the Battle of Greenfields in the Shire.  In a fit of “Tookishness”, Bilbo wakes the next morning and pursues the Dwarves who have already left him, contract in hand.

There is a moment of self-doubt for Bilbo along the way due to Thorin expressing his own skepticism that he belongs with the company.  By the end of the film, Bilbo possesses a new conviction to proceed to further dangers and adventures and convinces his new friends that his presence is important.

What I had thought would amount to about twenty to thirty minutes of screen time to cover this chapter turned out to be almost twice that amount.

“An Unexpected Journey” opens, like “Fellowship” with an introduction of past events.  We see a familiar view of the Shire leading finally to Bag End. It is the older Bilbo who is given the task of writing (and reading) the familiar opening sentence of the book: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”  The context is Bilbo’s beginning his great book of tales that he will pass down to Frodo.  We see him seated at his desk with quill in hand.

The time and date is about a few hours prior to the commencement of the Long Expected Party that begins “The Fellowship of the Ring”.  In fact, after a few words with Bilbo, Frodo goes off with a book to wait for the arrival of Gandalf and his cart full of fireworks for the celebration.

Though I had suggested Gandalf as an appropriate narrator for this opening, it was necessary for Bilbo to recount the story of the Dwarves’ establishing the Kingdom Under the Mountain at Erebor as part of his book.  We see a younger Thorin and his father and grandfather, Thrain and Thror, building the vast Dwarf realm under the Lonely Mountain and living in harmony with the Men of Dale.  The Arkenstone is introduced, though its importance will not be revealed until the next film.  Smaug attacks, the Dwarves flee Erebor and we see Thorin witness the retreat of Thranduil and the Elves from the destruction.  It is this act of the Wood Elves’ abandonment of the Dwarves in their time of need that leads to the bad blood between the races – particularly for Thorin.

In reality, the enmity between Dwarves and Elves dates back many years focusing on a dispute over an object called the Nauglamir.  This tale is recounted in other Tolkien writings but is much too complicated to make it relevant to this volume, so the simplification is necessary to create the future conflict between Thorin and Thranduil.

We are able to get a better sense of scope for the existence of the Dwarf race in exile and their lack of a settlement outside of the Blue Mountains and the Iron Hills, where Dain and his people dwell.  The “prologue” transitions to the Shire of sixty years earlier where we meet the younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) seated comfortably outside his front door blowing smoke rings.  And Gandalf arrives.

As I’d hoped , the entire opening conversation between the two characters remained word for word as it was written in the book, from Bilbo’s first “Good Morning” to the Wizard’s introduction of “I am Gandalf…and Gandalf”.  Sir Ian McKellan’s portrayal of the Grey Pilgrim is seamless from his performance in the larger trilogy of a decade ago.

Later that evening, the “Unexpected Party” Begins with the arrival of the Dwarves.  I was generally pleased with their presentation.  While some - like Oin, Ori, Bifor, Bombur and Nori – have yet to be featured as prominent individuals among the group, I expect they will have their own scenes to chew on in the upcoming films.  As noted in my review, there are seven Dwarves (no pun intended) that stood out in my memory (after one viewing).

Dwalin is the first to arrive.  He is by far the largest Dwarf (aside from Thorin) and somewhat resembles a WWE wrestler.  He greets his brother, Balin, with a head butt – very memorable.  Balin seems to be the “wise old man” of the group, the one with all the experience and bears the responsibility of recounting all the past stories of the Dwarves.  I had hoped for a reference that would tie Balin to his later association with Moria and sure enough his signature as witness on Bilbo’s contract reads “Balin, Son of Fundin”.  All that was missing was the “Lord of Moria” title that would appear on his tomb in “Fellowship”.

Fili and Kili are the younger, hunky Dwarves clearly aimed at the female portion of the audience.  But their light-hearted playfulness is almost reminiscent of the two younger hobbits, Merry and Pippin, from the LOTR.  Dori acts as a similar “elder” like Balin and is the first to voice his skepticism of Bilbo’s “burglary” expertise.  Gloin’s appearance makes it clear that he is Gimli’s father.

And Bofur will later come to have a memorable one-on-one moment with Bilbo in the Misty Mountains as the hobbit has resolved to leave the company for its own good and return to the comfortable home he has left behind.

We are introduced to the infamous pantry of Bag End, which the Dwarves effectively empty of all provision over the course of the evening.  The “clean-up” song is included to great comical effect including the tossing of cups, plates and bowls with remarkable agility.

At last, Thorin Oakenshield arrives and the casting of Richard Armitage is a good one.  Thorin appears brooding, formidable and full of a desire for vengeance – not someone to be trifled with.  He is the strength that ties this band together.  While I had expected a treatment of “Over The Misty Mountians Cold” to be moved to later in the story it’s rendition at Bag End serves to prod Bilbo into internally exploring his openness to adventure and the theme created by Howard Shore will reappear as incidental music throughout the rest of the film – much the way the “Fellowship” theme kept cropping up in the LOTR.

While Gandalf introduces the map and key to the party at this point, the story of how he acquired them looks like it will be left to a scene later in the series.  And the conversation between the Wizard and Bilbo where Gandalf tries to convince Bilbo to join them (see above) is an addition to the original text.  By the time Bilbo wakes the next morning and dashes out of his hobbit hole without a pocket handkerchief (which he will lament later) we have reached almost the end of the first hour of the movie.

I can’t say enough good things about Martin Freeman’s casting as young Bilbo.  In an interview with the UK magazine NME, Peter Jackson admits that despite all the rumors there was only ever one choice to play Bilbo and that was Freeman.  The only speed bump was working around his commitments to the British TV series, Sherlock.

With the journey under way, we move on to a revisit of ChapterTwo.


At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

The Nauglamír affair was in the First Age.


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